theSpace on North Bridge, Edinburgh

Grey Cardinal Studios’ production of Mojo is well worth a look. These graduates (and students) of the East 15 Acting School have got a little gem on their hands.

Of course, Jez Butterworth’s script is a gift to any actor worth their salt, but that doesn’t make it an an easy choice. This hard-hitting tale of 1950s gangsters – reeling after their night-club owning boss is killed – requires real grit and, with its depiction of virulent masculinity, might seem out of step with our times. But that’s where Grey Cardinal Studios’ inventiveness steps in: here, Sweets (Ameleah Wilson), Skinny (Natalie Sproston) and Silver Johnny (Ceili Lang) are all played by women. Apart from the pronouns, they don’t change the script at all, and it works – adding an extra layer to the story, bringing it bang up to date. I’m particularly impressed to learn that this change was made with Butterworth’s approval, that the young company engaged with him and made sure he was on board.

The acting is uniformly strong, although Evan Barker (as Baby) stands out, clearly relishing his part, exuding a particularly menacing and capricious air. He’s genuinely scary, and Skinny’s fear of him seems all-too valid a response.

Director Ashley Mapley-Brittle clearly knows what she is doing; the staging is dynamic, the relationships and pecking order established by proxemics and body language as well as dialogue. It’s technical stuff, but it all looks natural and unforced. The pace, while never dropping, still allows the script to breathe, the actors weighting the words so that we can appreciate them. I’m not convinced the spangly backdrop, awkwardly manoeuvred from behind the curtains, is necessary, but even this potentially clumsy scene-change is nicely covered by Silver Johnny’s singing.

Grey Cardinal Studios’ two founders Lewis Macey (Potts) and Charles Hollingworth (Mickey) should be really proud of themselves. They’ve made something rather special happen here.

4.1 stars

Susan Singfield



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